Monday, November 22, 2010

Mental Illness

The taboo of mental illness still exists, but it's shrinking. My own bouts with depression in high school were neither long enough nor severe enough to warrant more than a few visits to a therapist (as opposed to a psychiatrist), but I wasn't embarrassed; if it were necessary, I wouldn't have been embarrassed to seek further treatment. Actually, though, more crippling and at times even devastating to me throughout my childhood and teen years was my shyness. As a *fully-functioning adult, now, I wonder how my story would change had my severe social anxiety been treated.

On the Diane Rehm show earlier this week (Katty Kay was guest hosting), the panel discussed anxiety disorders, their treatment, and their stigma. A mother called in to talk about her 10-year-old daughter who's been on medication since age six. She describes recognizing the symptoms early on:

...I noticed it when she was born, literally. I mean, she was my second child, and in the hospital -- I was in the hospital for three nights -- she would not go to sleep. And finally one of the nurses said to me, you know, why don't you put her next to you? And that immediately helped, and so it was this -- throughout her infancy and then as she became a toddler, severe sort of attachment issues. And then when she was three -- she was in preschool -- she actually developed selective mutism, where she literally did not say a word at school for two years. And so that's when we started the talk therapy, and we got her to the point -- when she transitioned from preschool to kindergarten, we got her to the point where she could speak in school and be a relatively normal student in school....

And she's continued needing occasional talk therapy, and we've even had her in a group therapy with other kids with anxiety disorders. So we continue to do, you know, whatever it is that she needs and try to give her as many tools as we can because I do suspect -- as has been, you know, said earlier in the show -- that this is probably a lifelong battle that she's going to have with this disorder.

I wonder. Were I born twenty years later, would I have been put in "talk therapy"? Would I have been on Prozac by age 6? My mom tells me stories about my sheer terror around crowds of people, about my unwillingness to be touched or held by anyone but a chosen few. And I still remember my own fear of new people and situations that stayed with me through all my years in school. It affected--limited, really--so many of my choices.

Perhaps indirectly, though, it also shaped my world view. Would I have spent so much time observing others, watching their habits, trying to understand them, if I wasn't so scared of approaching them? Would I have as much empathy as I do?

*at least, I try to be one!

Quick note

There's been a dearth of posts, lately. But in a couple weeks, my writing group is having a "public readaround" in which we share with the rest of the class--as well as invited guests--what we've been working on all term. I've alternated between revising a short story I wrote in August and sharing my longer will-be novel (my short story is 3900 words while I only have about 5000 in the longer piece). In my small group, I have received the perfect balance of praise and criticism; enough encouragement to keep going as well as specific points I can improve or clarify.

Also, I have survived my first week in the suburbs. So far so good.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

...where they cut down all the trees and name streets after them...

~Alfred E. Neuman

In the next few weeks, I'll be moving out to the suburbs. I'm doing a lot of self-talk, trying to combat this prejudice I have against any zip code outside the city boundaries: Neither of my parents grew up in the city, and they turned out ok!

If I'm being honest, I have to acknowledge my self-satisfaction over having grown up in such a racially and economically diverse neighborhood (my bike was stolen a bunch of times! our house was broken into! we went to Cincinnati Public Schools!) I'm proud of having worn hand-me-downs, of not having cable, of growing up in a modest house. My values were shaped in that neighborhood, and I don't know how they would be the same had I been raised somewhere else.

And so the 'burbs. Thirty minutes--not five--from downtown. We'll see how my need for chaos (stacked papers, three pairs of shoes surrounding my chair at this very moment, two empty glasses) translates outside of the city. I think it will be good for my writing and focus (besides, there are nearby Starbucks!) though my commute to the library won't be fun.

On an unrelated note, I am psyched for the new movie with James Franco, 127 Hours. Based on a true story, it comes out in Cincy next Friday. The second song in the trailer is Funeral, by the awesomely named band, Band of Horses.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mid-term Reaction

As disappointed as I am with the results, on a national level, I'm not despairing. I think we'll be ok -- better this wave come now than in 2012. Timothy Egan had a great article in the New York Times. Its premise was that Obama and his actions saved capitalism, and now he's paying the price politically. Obama seems serious about governing and tackling our nation's problems while the rest come across as foolish. I am sad that Nancy Pelosi is losing that leadership position; I think history will treat her better than our news media.

I'm more worried about what this red tide means on the local level. Republicans swept both state houses and the governorship here in Ohio. Our outgoing governor, Ted Strickland, was a good smart man. He cares about unions and was well-tuned to needs of Appalachian regions of the state. But Ohio's been hit especially hard--unemployment is above the national average. The governor-elect wants to reject the $400 federal subsidy to build high-speed rails from Cincy to Columbus to Cleveland. It strikes me as ridiculous; this is something that would create jobs. He actually said that killing this program is is #1 priority.

So while a part of me still rails against the right-wing media and the manipulation of the public, that obviously wasn't the only thing going on in this election. It wasn't biased reporting that determined the results. There's something larger going on, and I'm trying to figure out what it is; a feeling that we were moving too fast on so many fronts and yet unemployment rose. I think there's a racial element, but that can only account for so much. The youth vote was horrendous; something like 8%. Had they voted at the same rate as the Medicare crowd, maybe results around the country would have been different.